Sign up for our updates. No spam.

Let's Make Great Music Together

Processing...

Thanks! You've been subscribed to the newsletter.

Under construction

National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week - 2022

Scroll down below to read five interviews of ETM-LA team members who attended HBCUs

Tonya Hylton - Tiffiny Reckley - Westley Steele - Renee Cannon - Kimberly Johnson

Tonya Hylton – Hampton University (Hampton, VA)

 

​​Why did you attend an HBCU?

It’s interesting because I really wasn’t planning to attend an HBCU when I started my research on where I wanted to go to college. My high school choir director, Ms. White, is a graduate of Hampton University located in Hampton, Virginia. I had never heard of it, or even knew what an HBCU was. Growing up in the Northeast portion of the United States, HBCUs weren’t taught about or openly discussed as a viable option. 

I was raised in small-town Connecticut, and having a Black choral director was ironically the norm. Ms. White asked me if I had ever heard of Hampton University, and said she thought I would be a wonderful fit for their community.

So! I did some digging – and it was like I entered an entire new world. I had no idea that HBCUs even existed. The more research I did, the more I realized that it felt right. Once my mom and I took the journey down to Virginia to visit the university, I knew that this was the place I wanted to go. I remember coming back and talking to Ms. White about my visit, and she said, “You have your entire life to be a minority.”

I never forgot that. 

I attended because it was the first time I saw Black people in places of power and influence. It was the first time I was around students who had parents as doctors, lawyers, scientists, and business professionals. This wasn’t normal where I came from, but was very common at Hampton. It opened my mind to what Black people could be, and really removed some of the ingrained limitations that society told me had to be placed on Black people. 

 

Are there any unique historical connections and/or traditions that you learned while attending your school?

There’s so many to choose from! 

  1. The Emancipation Oak served as the site for the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Emancipation Oak is still standing on the Hampton University campus. 
  2. Hampton’s most distinguished alum is Booker T. Washington. Washington founded Tuskegee Institute in 1881.
  3. In 1878, the first group of Native American students attended Hampton Institute at the request of its founder General Chapman Armstrong, and became one of the first Native American programs at a University in the country.

 

How do you feel your time at your school helped with community connectedness, especially in education?

I learned what community really means from Hampton University. It is a smaller university, and being a part of the music department meant classes were even smaller. I think that atmosphere benefitted me.

I will say that each aspect of the university was very intentional in creating community and connectedness within that specific silo. There were traditions for each organization, in-take processes that forced you to know who you were standing next to, and you had no choice but to spend time with those same people as well.

It taught me how to engage with people who I didn’t know, and feel more comfortable in spaces that might be unfamiliar to me. These strategies helped me figure out how to get my students to connect with one another on a deeper level and create relationships between unlikely individuals. 

 

What role did your experience at an HBCU play in your development as a music educator?

Being at an HBCU helped me to recognize just how much of music education, and what we teach, is shaped and presented from a Euro-centric standpoint. So much of the way music was being taught, and has been taught, focuses on white dead men.

From a cultural standpoint, this simply did not represent the students I was teaching and the communities that I was serving. It made me really consider how I was presenting musical concepts, making sure that content was relatable, current, and relevant to the students and the lives they led outside. I ended up doing an entire overhaul of my curriculum, and making sure the material that I was presenting always included something relatable or recognizable to the students. 

 

How are you upholding the legacy of your HBCU in your music classroom?

Although I do not have a classroom anymore, I do make it a point to discuss HBCUs with the teachers I supervise, to assist them with understanding the significance these schools have on Black and Indigenous populations.

Additionally, some of our partner schools do promote HBCUs and their importance, and I try to make it a point to be a part of that – even in something as simple as wearing my college t-shirt or sweatshirt. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________

Tiffiny Reckley – Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans, LA)

 

Why did you attend an HBCU?

The choice to attend an HBCU is very personal for me. I wanted a place that was built around community and held the same values that I have. Attending an HBCU allowed me to flourish in an environment that understood the cultural connectedness of Black communities and Black American cultural nuances. The more I researched HBCUs, the more I learned about the legacy of how many successful Black professionals they produced – people who made major strides in every career you could think of. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’d ever seen. There were images of students smiling proudly, being taught by professors who looked like them, and finding success after graduation. Seeing that I had the opportunity to stand upon their shoulders, I could actually envision myself being fulfilled, as I was being poured into by successful people. As an Alumna, it’s exciting to meet other people from HBCUs because we often share similar experiences, and it just feels so much like family. It’s all love! 

 

Are there any unique historical connections and/or traditions that you learned while attending your school?

We learn the history of our HBCU during freshman year –  it is reiterated at every major milestone throughout our matriculation and it plays a very ACTIVE role in our education. It’s actually woven into our coursework and taken seriously by professors and students. Below are some historical and fun facts about the University.

  1. Xavier University of Louisiana was founded by Saint Katharine Drexel, S.B.S., of the famous Drexel family – her uncle founded Drexel University. Originally a socialite, she donated her fortune and invested it in creating a school of higher education for Black and Native American students in the New Orleans area, and offered the career field of teaching from early on in its inception. Mother Katharine is the patron saint of philanthropy and racial justice, and is cited for the four legacies: unity of all peoples, courage and initiative in addressing social inequalities among minorities, quality education for all, and selfless service. She was canonized in 2000 at Xavier’s campus by Pope John Paul II. 
  2. Xavier is the only HBCU that is historically Black and Catholic, as many HBCUs were founded by different denominations of the Protestant church. Although the University is run by a board of trustees, many nuns from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament still serve on campus today. Only about 19% of the students are Catholic.
  3. Xavier had the longest-sitting college president, Dr. Norman C. Francis ’52, who served in his role for 47 years. He was also the first Black and layperson to lead the University. Dr. Francis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 from President George W. Bush. Post-Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Francis worked tirelessly to recover from the extensive damage, and XULA was the first New Orleans university to open its campus back to students in-person the following spring. In 2020, former Confederate Jefferson Davis Pkwy was renamed Norman C. Francis Pkwy in his honor by the City of New Orleans (where the current Mayor is a Xavier Grad and the first Black female Mayor of the city). 
  4. Xavier’s current music building is housed in the original library building and is named for Blanche Francis (late wife of Dr. Francis), who attended every music concert she could until her passing. 
  5. Xavier produces more African American students who graduate from medical school than any other university in the U.S.  
  6. There’s a neighborhood in the middle of campus. Xavier is built in the Gert Town neighborhood in New Orleans. The University will not purchase these homes for expansion. Xavier has intentionally acquired and built on the land around the neighborhood, and the neighbors love the students!
  7. Affectionately known as XULA, or simply X-U, we have our own line dance which everyone learns as a student (video below)! 
  8. Xavier is pronounced Zay-vyer (not X-avier), think “Xerox”!  
  9. Every Xavier freshman receives their baseball cap with their graduation year embroidered on it during our Capping Ceremony. If you lose it, you can not purchase another. Tradition is set that when you graduate, you trade that cap in for your graduation cap (but you really get to keep it!). 
  10. The phrase, “As A Xavierite” is known by all students and alumni, and is introduced to us at freshman orientation. It’s like a rally call.
  11. Xavier’s sports teams are the Gold Nuggets and the Gold Rush We have a mascot with no official name. He is a miner that we have unofficially nicknamed Gold Digger!
  12. Alumni will go back to their freshman dorm room during Homecoming and give the current students of that room gifts. 
  13. Xavier will celebrate our Centennial in 2025!!

 

How do you feel your time at your school helped with community connectedness, especially in education?

As an education major at Xavier, service learning is embedded into every single course that you take. I was able to receive exposure to different neighborhoods, and work with many diverse groups of students. I was grateful to be able to learn ways to be innovative that I could use in my own classroom. We were encouraged to absorb the language, music, and culture of the city and infuse it back into teaching our students. It was always exciting to go out and learn while being in the mix. Community service requirements are also expected from the university, and there is an office dedicated to finding the best form of service for you. It’s a wonderful experience to attend a university that doesn’t just focus on academics, but one that really stresses the importance of how you can increase your wider scope of the world. The goal is for these experiences to allow us to be innovative in how we can use our gifts to improve the world around us. Our relationship with the University continues after graduation, also. With a dedication to service, it is expected that Alumni come back and serve and stay connected. I have enjoyed being able to go back and see former professors, speak with current music education students and other music majors about the future of the profession, and perform as a Distinguished Alumni. I keep this same mentality as an educator, and will often encourage my students to do the same. Their contributions to their neighborhood after they graduate will always be necessary to the development of the neighborhood for the next generation.

 

What role did your experience at an HBCU play in your development as a music educator?

Everything that I am as an educator was formed and shaped by the educational experience I received at Xavier. I am constantly crediting the University and the high quality of the professors for my continual success. The foundation I received is unmatched! It blew beyond any of my expectations as a student, and those images I saw as a high school student became my reality. Our Bachelor of Music program had over 160 credits, and managing to work through it in 4 years was tough, but we were constantly supported from all angles. We enjoyed getting to know our professors as people, and leaning on their expertise as we rose above the challenges. Again, I tend to have this reflected in my own teaching practice. Being able to connect with students and their cultural diversities is a product of my experience, as well.  Students should know that although we may not have been through similar experiences, we are there to support them in their journey as they grow and move on their own paths. We encourage them, laugh with them, and place high expectations that they are capable of truly being leaders in their own educational journey. Keeping an open mind, always considering the real world and its influence, and making decisions with integrity are some of the best tools to have.

 

How are you upholding the legacy of your HBCU in your music classroom?

Xavier’s mission is to “create a more just and humane society” through servant leadership. The goal of being an integral part of something that is working together for the greater good of more than just ourselves is something that I often promote to students in my instructional practice. It’s not just about me learning and doing better for myself. It means nothing if we don’t share these things and build upon them together. The world is so much bigger than just me – even if the only world I’ve known is encapsulated in a few city blocks. We first become better people so that we can apply that to strengthening our communities and our next generations. This is the legacy of my HBCU that I’m proud to uphold. My own personal mission of helping students gain a wider scope of the world, envision themselves as integral members of the arts community, and to become social justice change agents in their communities through the performing arts, is centered around what was embedded in me as a student at Xavier. As Black people in America, we were once denied education, and are continually faced with the ills of systemic oppression that uphold the inequities we see Black children facing in schools today. As HBCU students, we were nurtured to have pride in ourselves, knowledge of ourselves, and we were able to grow in an environment where serving as the majority positively impacted our focus and self confidence. As HBCU graduates, it is our responsibility to do all that we can to work on dismantling this, and continuing to develop this in all of our endeavors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun fact: My first job was as the band director at Xavier University Prep High School in New Orleans, which is a historically Black all-girls school. I was the last Black female band director the school had before closing their doors in 2013, at the end of their 98th year. The school was later re-opened by Alumnae under another name, Katharine Drexel Prep, and there has not been another female band director since.

 

Resources:

More information about Xavier University of Louisiana 

More information about St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

More information about Xavier’s Education Department 

More information about Xavier’s Music Department

XU Shuffle dance: XU Bounce

XULA Media: Custom artwork and poem by Alumni

Xavier’s Junior School of Music (earliest photo)

 

_________________________

Westley Steele – Howard University (Washington, D.C.)

 

Why did you attend an HBCU?

I attended my HBCU, Howard University (“The Mecca”), to further my knowledge in the cultural diaspora of the Black Experience, as well as to build camaraderie with the brightest and most creative like-minded students of color from around the world.

 

Are there any unique historical connections and/or traditions that you learned while attending your school? 

There are so many historical connections and traditions that you’ll only find at an HBCU; many of them I was a part of. For one, I was a member of the “Showtime” Marching Band, where I was a 4-year member of the Sousaphone section. Also, I pledged two fraternities; Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America (Zeta Iota Chapter), and Kappa Alpha Psi (Xi Chapter); an historically Black Greek Letter Organization. Of course, you can’t leave out the legendary Homecomings at Howard, which have been made famous by celebrity appearances and  performances of the hottest black music artists on the planet (examples include Biggie Smalls, Lauryn Hill, Common, and Drake to name a few). But not only that, the culture of School Spirit is next level! We always represent and look forward to sharing our experiences with everyone who’d like to learn about it!

 

How do you feel your time at your school helped with community connectedness, especially in education?

As a student at an HBCU, you feel like an open book to connectivity within your community. You’re not just a number in the classroom to your professors and/or administrators. They build a relationship with you and guide you through your experience at the institution. You’re nurtured to become a leader and to always give back to anyone who may require your assistance.  

 

What role did your experience at an HBCU play in your development as a music educator?

I often tell my students that I am not just “Mr. Steele the music teacher”, but a mixture of ALL the traits my professors helped instill into my persona as a leader, brother, and servant of higher education to the world.

 

How are you upholding the legacy of your HBCU in your music classroom?

During my classes, I love to present video clips of HBCU choirs and bands to inspire students to turn the key and ask questions about how these institutions, these safe spaces of diverse education, can foster a sense of excitement, tradition, and belonging for everyone who attends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________

Renee Cannon – Lincoln University (Oxford, PA)

 

Why did you attend an HBCU?

So, I attended Lincoln University of PA almost by happenstance! My original plan was to attend a school in San Francisco. When I was in high school, however, I had a really invested counselor who brought me and some other African American students to an HBCU college fair. I met some of the people who were there for LU and they told me which scholarships were available to me. Having spent the majority of my education in predominantly white schools, the thought of attending an HBCU was definitely intriguing. I applied, received full tuition and fees, and the rest was history!

 

Are there any unique historical connections and/or traditions that you learned while attending your school?

1854, the First HBCU for sure! That was our chant because we were the first degree-granting college for African-Americans and we are very proud of that fact! We have some incredibly notable alumni, such as Cab Calloway, Langston Hughes, and Thurgood Marshall. I joined the Orange Crush Roaring Lions Marching Band which was an intense and extraordinary experience, considering how important marching bands are to the black experience. I learned a lot about music from being in the marching band.

 

How do you feel your time at your school helped with community connectedness, especially in education?

Because my school was so small, our individual departments were very well-connected. If you were in Elementary Education, you took very nearly every class with the same people. We did projects together, studied together, cried and laughed together. I learned how to rely on and lead the people around me, and build a foundation of trust and respect. I try to pull that same foundation into my classroom with my students. We rise together, your happiness is mine and vice versa, and, most importantly, we take care of each other. 

 

What role did your experience at an HBCU play in your development as a music educator?

In the marching band, I learned a lot about responsibility, discipline, and ownership. There were a lot of expectations for how we should present and conduct ourselves, whether we were in the band room, the stands, the field, or out and about. It also encouraged me to take private lessons. Even though I was an Elementary Education major, if I had the time in my schedule, I fit in extra music classes like theory and conducting. I also learned just how powerful music could be. If we were hyped and excited about what we were doing, so was the football team. If we were lackluster, you could feel it through the arena. 

 

How are you upholding the legacy of your HBCU in your music classroom?

I still believe in those ideals that the marching band instilled in me. I still expect my students to be responsible, to be disciplined, and to own what they are learning. I go out of my way to promote learning music, whether that be vocally or instrumentally, and to promote the benefits of going to an HBCU any time I can. Most importantly though, I like to inspire a sense of purpose in my students. Lincoln University has a vast history and many notable people have graduated from there. Lincoln believes that the students who walk through their gates will be the students making news tomorrow. It’s important to me that my students understand that they too can be making an impact, that they too can be the ones making history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________________________

Kimberly Johnson – Grambling State University (Grambling, LA)

 

Why did you attend an HBCU? 

I attended a HBCU for 2 reasons: to be seen and to be in the band.

I attended an HBCU because I wanted a meaningful college experience. In high school, I used to attend the Black College Expo and I remember going to a seminar and hearing from many different speakers about how much they loved being seen on campus. I mean, really seen. They loved not being the minority and building lifelong bonds, etc. They said things like their professors knew them by name. Which to my understanding is not common in a lot of Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Being a quiet student in elementary through high school, I often felt forgotten in class even though I stood out (usually one of two black kids in class). So the thought of these mentors taking an interest in my education really spoke to me. 

I attended Grambling State University for the band! Back in 1998, my Dad won tickets from a radio show to go to a Grambling football game in San Diego. My Dad invited all his friends who went to Grambling when he did (he graduated Class of 1975). It was supposed to be a “guys’ trip,” but my Mom forced him to take us with him and the rest was history! Even at the early age of 8, I had been to football games my whole life (literally, my first game was my brother’s Pop Warner game when I was 4 months old) and I never saw a marching band like that! I was hooked. That introduced me to the world of HBCUs and Black Marching Bands. That same day I decided I wanted to play trumpet. Even though I didn’t get to play until high school, I knew I wanted to be in that world. 

 

Are there any unique historical connections and/or traditions that you learned while attending your school?

Grambling has a lot of history. Here are a few:

Our founder Charles P. Adams was sent to Louisiana by Booker T. Washington to open the Northern Louisiana Agricultural Institute (Grambling). So, historically we are “sister schools” with Tuskegee University.

The Grambling “World Famed” Marching Band has earned their title through the years. Because of our great performances historically, our band has had opportunities to perform in different parts of the world and for the first Super Bowl Halftime Show. The band has performed for 5 different presidents: Nixon, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Biden. I even had the opportunity to perform at Obama’s first inauguration. The band has been featured in movies, TV shows, commercials, and more. We are “The Best Band in the Land.” 

Our school is also home of Eddie G. Robinson (1919-2007). He is a well-known football coach in College Football history who until 2011 held the record of the most wins as a collegiate football coach. 

Every HBCU has a rich culture that binds us together. From Homecoming, to step shows, to the marching band, to parties, to our classes, we both created and are a part of something special. 

 

How do you feel your time at your school helped with community connectedness, especially in education?

I think it helped me with connecting with students and families of color. I grew up as a minority in my own community. So being in an HBCU, I got to see how children of color act in an environment where they are most comfortable to express themselves. The culture is way different from what I was used to. I felt better prepared to handle more with a wider world view, thanks to the variety of people I came across. 

 

What role did your experience at an HBCU play in your development as a music educator?

Besides teaching us about music and educational pedagogy, I have learned how to be resourceful. They prepared us for the real possibility that we would have limited resources, being that a majority of our peers are returning to rural and urban communities post-graduation. I believe that idea of being resourceful and finding creative solutions helps me think outside the box of what I can bring into my classroom. They also taught me how important it is to have a community to network with in your field. 

 

How are you upholding the legacy of your HBCU in your music classroom?

I am one of many music educators to come from Grambling. I also am still in the beginning phases of shaping my band program, so I’m working on the big legacy part. I will say I am excited to represent my university and be able to share my experiences that hopefully inspire all my students (especially the band kids) to be the best versions of themselves. I want my classroom to carry the same motto as my school: Grambling State University “Where Everybody is Somebody.”